Family Dynamics - Emerging From the Shadow of Greatness - The Private Bank

“Is that your dad? What is it like growing up around a legend?” Children of well-known athletes, business icons, or other influential people are often subject to this star-struck line of questioning. Undria Rollins, a Private Banker in Atlanta, knows first-hand just how challenging it can be. Her father is seven feet tall and played professional basketball for 18 years, so she both figuratively and literally grew up in her father’s massive shadow. Undria describes the time when she realized her upbringing was different than her peers. Initially she felt special because of the extra attention, but that quickly turned to embarrassment. “At first the attention was flattering, and then it became annoying.” She continues, “Imagine going to parent/teacher conferences in sixth grade and people crowding around your parents to talk to them. Imagine your teacher and principal asking your dad for his autograph.”

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Fame, fortune, challenges

To the outside observer, it may appear these young people lead a charmed life, protected by fame, fortune, or both. Many don’t experience the same challenges in life as their peers. More often than not, they face an entirely different set of issues very few young people are forced to deal with.

Many children of the successful or famous face outsized expectations that are often imposed on them by others, but sometimes they do it themselves. For example, if your mother is the CEO of a Fortune 100 company or your dad is on the national news for his sports accomplishments, it is easy to believe this is the standard and definition of success. This may seem like an obvious conclusion with high-profile personalities, but interestingly enough, it is similar no matter what demographic you come from. Children tend to measure their accomplishments against those of their parents, and when parents are the best in the world (or at least the neighborhood) at something, those expectations can be daunting. Many kids choose to follow in their parents’ footsteps, be it athletics or business. This is not a new phenomenon. These individuals often have access to training and experiences that can give them a competitive advantage against their peers, but it also can create expectations for performance that they are unable to live up to. Some of these expectations, whether imposed by others or themselves, can create anxiety and even resentment.

Growing up in the spotlight

Children raised in the spotlight are often expected to grow up faster than other kids and to know how to navigate difficult and sometimes awkward social situations and conversations. It is often assumed that they have the same passions, skills, and abilities, or at least the seeds of them, as their prominent parents. Success of parents influences their children’s identity; many are known as “the son or daughter of …” when they just want to be seen as an individual.

If you identify with growing up in this “shadow” scenario, consider the following:

Five keys to emerging from the shadow of greatness

  1. Choose friends carefully—Select and spend time with people who share your interests and want to be around you because of who you are, not to get access to privileges and perks of being around your parents.
  2. Define your own path—Set goals for your personal development and then pursue them with energy and focus.
  3. Prepare now for financial independence—Learn to live a lifestyle that doesn’t make you dependent on the ongoing financial support of your parents. It is not uncommon for successful people to want to enjoy the successes that their hard work has brought them. Unknowingly, these otherwise innocent indulgences can create lifestyle expectations that are hard to live up to.
  4. Leverage connections—Pursue your passions and ask parents to utilize their personal/professional connections to become the best at your chosen pursuit. Most successful people’s greatest assets are not their financial wealth; it’s their relationships. Using connections to acquire new knowledge or create opportunities is often overlooked as a way to transition true wealth.
  5. Don’t be embarrassed by success—Choose to be proud of the accomplishments of your parents. You don’t have to feel bad for your parents’ achievements.

Defining your own path to success

While growing up in the shadow of greatness may be difficult, it may also represent a great opportunity. However you feel about it is OK. The healthiest way to confront these expectations/fears is to verbalize them with someone you trust, like a parent or mentor. You might ask for help to define and pursue your own personal path to success. There is greatness in all of us, but it isn’t always in the same field as our parents. Emerging from the shadow of greatness is about being committed to discovering and pursuing your goals and ambitions. Your success doesn’t have to be defined or measured against the professional pursuits or accolades of your parents, but that will be up to you to decide. Outside influences might apply pressure to make such comparisons, but the only true measure of success that you need to pursue is your own.

Some will say that you succeeded because of your parents. Others will say that you succeeded in spite of your parents. All of this is just noise you will have to manage on your pathway to happiness and success.

Author: David Specht, National Development Manager, Family Dynamics